Award-winning new-media artist, PAMELA STRETTON, is one of the most exciting and innovative talents of the new generation of contemporary South African artists, and we are proud to present her as our first “Artist of the Month”.
“My artwork deals predominantly with the female body, focussing on isues such as beauty ideals and the body's relationship with popular culture, fashion, health and food”, explains Stretton.
“Inspired by print, most of my work takes the form of digital inkjet prints, usually combining photographic images and text. The methods used to create the finished work involve re-working the print, in order to produce a visually appealing surface texture. These methods are often rather painstaking, commenting on the obsessive control exerted on the female body in terms of eating disorders.
“The use of square formats, grids and pixels are used to highlight the notion of conformity, aided by the tight cropping of close-up images of the body (as an essentially rounded form). A soft padding is used in much of my work to comment subtly on the notion of womanly curves, as well as to give organic dimensions to what would otherwise be flat prints. Other notions pertinent to my theme involve scale, scrutiny and fragmentation."
My artwork focuses on the female body, and is to a large extent autobiographical. Issues such as beauty ideals and the body's relationship with popular culture, fashion, health and food are central to my themes. A semiotic approach is applied to my portrayal of the body with the idea of the body being able to produce meaning and relay messages in its own right. In my work, a system of signs is dealt with in terms of the encoded aspect. In a similar way that a real live body emits signs in the form of communicative acts, which are then interpreted by perceivers, the body in the two dimensional form of images, becomes encoded with information in the form of text, icons and numbers, which is intended to be perceived in the same way; as messages to be decoded in the ornate system of signs involved with the female body and issues such as anorexia. The encoding is literally 'written on the body', and actually makes up the surface tonality of the body image, likening the body to a text that should be read.
The works take the form of pixilated digital inkjet prints, which are adhered to a layer of soft foam, and then built-up, pixel by pixel onto a firm surface. Each 20 x 20mm pixel contains a piece of information in the form of iconography drawn from the food, fashion, consumerism and health and fitness industries, encoding the entire image in a specific context. The finished works depict a slightly reflective, rippled and soft surface. An intimate and close-up take of different parts of the body is usually seen from the author's perspective, rendering the camera an extension of the artist's own eye. As a result of this, the works often take on odd compositions and slightly distorted and abstract elements. The colour of the work has been reduced to subtle flesh tones rather than full colour, as a means to enhance the private and intimate nature of the works.
The pixel plays an important role in the work, pointing to a number of elements that should be noted. The first of which is the idea of scale. Enlarging a specific area for the purpose of immense scrutiny is crucial to the work and since the images are large and pixilated, the viewer is forced to stand at a distance in order to make them visually resolve. While the image resolves at a distance, the information contained within each individual pixel cannot be seen, and requires the viewer to come forward to within a few centimeters of the work. Tension is created here through this constant pull between intimacy and distance. Repetition in the work also points to the use of the pixel. The colours of the pixels making up a digital image are often repeated, or vary slightly from one to the next, and in keeping with this notion, the information contained within the pixels in these works operates similarly. It becomes apparent that the contents of these pixels are variations of the same thing, if not repeated exactly. This repetition points to the notion of excess. Control is also an important element to the work (in relation to the body) and is enhanced by the presence of the pixel. Looking closely at a section of a pixilated image brings to mind the idea of a grid. Since the work involves a very neat, ordered and controlled method of arrangement, the use of grids is necessary throughout the process. The main purpose of these grids is to contain something or to keep something in place. These grids, in the context of the work and made evident through their pixilated nature, may be seen as a metaphor for control and conformity. Not only is the pixel a perfect square, an essentially geometric form, making up a curved, organic body, but also the format of the works themselves is a square inside which the body is contained. Almost all negative space is eliminated to highlight this notion of containment. This idea of the tightly controlled containment of the square and the grid is an important element of the work in terms of the obsessive behaviour women often exert on their bodies in the name of beauty. Fragmentation is looked at in the work in terms of the realist fragment. The body is seen up-close and in part, referring to it in relation to specific parts. The fragment is made all the more prevalent in the work through the presence of the pixel. The works themselves depict fragments, making up a body of work, but the pixels too, can be seen as fragments of a whole, since a pixel is the element of which a digital image is made up. An important concept to note here is that it is not only the relationship between one pixel and another that serves to resolve the image, but also the relationship between each work and the others, in reading the body of work as a whole.
Notions of flesh and references to food are also made continuously to highlight the obsessive relationship between the female body and eating disorders. The reference to fat products and meat links strongly to the personal aspect of the work in terms of the anorexic experience. Fat, for obvious reasons, and meat, in terms of its relation to flesh. The work makes reference to these substances by means of recognisable iconography found on their packaging. Packaging is focussed on, not only for its relation with consumerism and its role in the sale of products, but for the information it displays.The excessive use of such iconography in this project is inspired by an obsession with food and eating. The foam adhered to each pixel is also a reference to the notion of flesh, and the softness of women's bodies.
Pamela Stretton by Bettie Lambrecht, Contempo, August/September 2006, pg 16)
The Female Body, Drawn and Quartered The Encoded Body exhibition by Pamela Stretton, reviewed by Mary Corrigall, Culture, The Sunday Independent, 29 April 2007, pg 10
Pamela Stretton Gallery on the Square / Johannesburg by Robyn Sassen, Art South Africa, Vol 06 Issue 01 Spring 2007, pg 102
Season of Plenty Monday Paper, October 3 - 9 2005, Volume 24 #23, University of Cape Town, pg 2
Date of birth: 15 April 1980
Schooling: Kingswood College, Grahamstown
Queenstown Girls High School
Tertiary: 2002 Rhodes University. Bachelor of Fine Art (with distinction)
2005 University of Cape Town. Master of Fine Art (with distinction)
Artistic Career / Awards:
Absa L'Atelier 2003, 2006 and 2007( Finalist in all three years)
Sanlam Vuleka 2005 (Winner)
Brett Kebble Art Awards 2005 (Finalist)
Spier Contemporary 2007 (Finalist)
2002 Rhodes University Graduate Exhibition, Grahamstown
2003 Absa L'Atelier, Johannesburg
2005 Sanlam Vuleka , Bellville, Cape Town
2005 Michaelis School of Fine Art Graduate Exhibition, Cape Town
2006 Portrait Exhibition. Association for Visual Arts, Cape Town
2006 15th Art Salon at The Bay, The Bay Hotel, Camps Bay , Cape Town
2007 South African Artists, Gallery in Cork Street, London
2007 Rust en Vrede Gallery, Durbanville
2007 Interwoven/ Intertwined. FNB Private Clients' Art Route, Cultivaria, Paarl (curated by the artist)
2007 Surface Tension. The Photographers Gallery, Cape Town
2007 16th Art Salon, Rose Korber Art, Camps Bay, Cape Town
2007 Spier Contemporary, Stellenbosch, Cape
2008 RE: CM (Regarding Capital Management) Salon Exhibition, Cape Town
2006 The Encoded Body, Association for Visual Arts, Cape Town
2006 Winchester Hotel, Cape Town
2007 The Encoded Body Series, Gallery on the Square, Sandton, Johannesburg (in collaboration with Rose Korber Art, Cape Town)
Katrine Harries Print Cabinet, Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town
Hollard Insurance, Johannesburg (Private Collection)
University of South Africa, Pretoria
Coronation Fund Managers, Stellenbosch, Cape
In South Africa, Britain, France, Germany and U.S.A.
Selection of works
Click on the links below the thumbnails to view the full image with cataloguing
Click here to view detailed views of a selection of Pamela Stretton's works